Turning youth anger into optimism
Alison, Managing Director
The media play a vital role in informing us of important local and world events that may impact our lives now or in the future. However, I can’t help thinking that the constant barrage of negative news which leads from one catastrophe to another – destruction of the rainforests, rioting in Hong Kong, hurricanes in the Bahamas, obesity, foodbanks – must be damaging to the mental health of our children. It is tragic enough that they will inherit a world of environmental and political turmoil but the relentless torrent of horror they hear and read every minute of every day is surely doing untold damage to their impressionable young brains and I fear that the spirit of optimism and excitement for the future they were surely born with will be quashed in many, leaving only a hollow sense of hopeless impotence.
With the relentless reporting of bad news and the media’s insatiable appetite for publishing and regurgitating click bait, it is no wonder that young people seek to escape into the world of adventure and fantasy that the internet and digital technologies offer. What 13-year-old wouldn’t choose to follow the antics of the Merrell Twins or the Labrant Family rather than watch or read the grizzly real-world news? Spend some time trawling through the Joe Sugg’s posts and you can understand the appeal. These people are what are now loosely called influencers. For many, they have taken the place of the news channels older generations feasted on and for others have even replaced the influence of positive real-life adult role models, including parents, teachers, politicians, business leaders, scientists.
The level of anger and frustration displayed by young people in the recent climate strikes and extinction rebellion activities has been encouraging and shows a level of determination and drive. I would love to see this energy channelled into positive action, not just demonstrations and marches, but innovation and real change. Maybe it has been necessary for children to reach such a level of desperation and sadness for them to stand up for what they believe in and start to take some agency over their futures? Maybe a perpetual sense of anxiety about the future is what is needed to drive a youth movement and the start of a new beginning? But I can’t help thinking there would have been a better, less damaging way, to achieve the same end?
Greta Thunberg’s is now a familiar face and name and it is heartening to see her influence encouraging others to make a stand, in person and on social media. Nico McCrimmon’s gift of Global Warming for Dummies and entry into GCSE Geography for Boris Johnson was priceless. I hope that this emerging layer of nano influencers will develop into the macro influencers of tomorrow and that they can turn their anger and despair into positive, optimistic change.
As an adult I am able to filter my news intake and, as someone who has worked with the media for over 30 years, can discern hype from fact and achieve a sense of perspective. We need to remember that our children don’t have the benefit of age and experience to be able to do the same.
Also, I am lucky to work in the midst of Cambridge’s community of research and innovation which is fast creating the solutions to our environmental and climate challenges. These entrepreneurial individuals and organisations can’t change the behaviour of world politicians and leaders, but their work is creating solutions, which give us the uplifting stories, hope and achievements, that should be driving our news headlines. They make me feel optimistic for the future and optimism is the quality we need to nurture in our children.
As adults we have a responsibility to equip children with their own news filters so that the noise of horror can be eclipsed by the light of opportunity and hope which, after all, are qualities which make us human and will undoubtedly lead to a better world for everyone.